Friday, July 29, 2016

Bittersweet transitions: Thomas E. Gompf Chair in Chemistry

On July 14th, I received a phone call from my department Chair, Ken Karlin. He was excited to inform me that the Board of Trustees had just approved my appointment as the inaugural holder of the Thomas E. Gompf Chair in Chemistry. Elation! An endowed professorship is a promotion, and provides discretionary funds useful in pursuing new areas of investigation. It is also another sign of support from my department, my Chair, and my Dean showing that they want me to be part of the collective vision for advancing chemistry at Hopkins. But wait… who is Thomas E. Gompf? Will I have a chance to meet him, express my gratitude, share our passion for science, and generally be a good steward of his beneficence? No. He passed away on January 6th of this year. Sadness! Thus my transition into the Chair is bittersweet because the loss of Dr. Gompf is what made the Chair possible in the first place.

According to the obituary from the Jennings, Nulton, & Mattle Funeral Home in Penfield, NY, Thomas E. Gompf passed away at 90: "Predeceased by his loving wife of 63 years Elaine. He is survived by his son Robert E. (Leslie R.); 2 grandchildren, William "Liam"& Peter; sister, Betty Nordwall; special friend and caregiver Sarah Callahan and family. He retired from Eastman Kodak with over 10 patents to his name.”  The titles and subjects of his patents suggest that he was an organic or formulations chemist having developed innovations to make better photographs. Not surprising as he worked at Eastman Kodak.

That is all I know. But that is enough to know that I have big shoes to fill. The fact that the professorship he endowed is not restricted to his area of chemistry and open to theoretical and computational chemists such as myself speaks to the broadness of his thinking. I look forward to learning more about him, and hopefully also about his connection to Johns Hopkins. I also look forward to hearing about what he did #OutsideTheLab! (Feel free to e-mail me or post anecdotes or information if you have them!)

Credit: The picture is taken from the obituary.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Bittersweet Transitions (From Georgia Tech to Johns Hopkins!)

As I have been mulling over my move to Johns Hopkins, the word that keeps cropping up again and again is "bittersweet." I look back at the 20 years that I spent with my family, my colleagues, my friends, and my group in Atlanta, and I feel the moroseness of the loss. We built our home here, our son was born here, my research group thrived here, and I was part of the team that raised the visibility and profile of Georgia Tech's School of Chemistry.

The funny thing about that rise is that it included faculty like me who started our careers at Tech, but it has also included a significant number of colleagues who moved to Tech after having established their research groups elsewhere. The latter came to Tech with an opportunity to reinvent themselves and their research groups. They also had a mandate to add to the growth of their new department. This is the sweet side of a move. Likewise, I am looking forward to reimagining a more agile research group solving problems across our core areas of research. I am also excited by possible new collaborations, and what I will learn from them. The practice of chemical research has increasingly become multi-disciplinary and collaborative. It's exciting to be on a new team, but it is still a bittersweet feeling as I will undoubtedly lose some of my ties to Georgia Tech.

At the stroke of midnight on June 30th, the transition will be complete. I will start my adventure with my new colleagues at Hopkins! The size of our undergraduate student population makes it feel like a primarily undergraduate institution that happens to be collocated with a world-class graduate research program. I look forward to being able to engage with students in smaller classroom settings just as I experienced during my Phi Beta Kappa lectures. I look forward to meeting with my new colleagues and collaborating on problems that I have not yet thought about. My research group is also moving quickly, and we will have the resources to advance the theory of chemical reaction rates and dynamical consistency in multiscale nonequilibrium approaches, while tackling challenges related to proteins, nanoparticles, colloidal suspensions and high-speed flows. Hopkins Chemistry has been moving up because of: many outstanding recent junior hires, many successes by mid-career and senior faculty, and emerging ties to other disciplines. It's an amazing opportunity to be a part of this growth!

So farewell to Georgia Tech and hello to Hopkins. This is an ending that has a beginning, and I am looking forward to what awaits.